Jessica Jones, as Marvel's latest Netflix series pits her, is in the time old tradition of noir PI's. Surly, short tempered, drunk and surprisingly good at what she does. The fact she is super strong and can take a beating kinda of helps too. In this latest foray into TV, Marvel has taken one of their lessor known characters and given them an impressive world to run riot in. Thrown into the same Hell's Kitchen as the other current Marvel/Netflix superhero, Daredevil, we have a ready made New York, still coming to terms with the events of The Avengers. Jones may be powered, but she doesn't really care. She isn't a hero, she is just doing what she does. This is a hard act to pull off and casting Krysten Ritter is a stroke of genius. Best known to most as either Breaking Bad's doomed Jane Margolis or as Don't Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23, she has that wonderful skill of making unlikable compelling. Jessica Jones, as a character, needs this element. She isn't playing hard to get with the audience, she seemingly really doesn't care what we think about her. That she doesn't really change is the series' triumph.
For every hero you need a villain. In this case we get The Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. This is the other reason why Jessica Jones as a series is so watchable. Tennant gives us an utterly despicable man, played with utter charm and conviction by one of Scotland's very finest. Kilgrave is a mind controlling rapist, who is utterly convinced the evils he commits are not his fault as all he has done is compelled people to do whatever he asks. Jessica Jones is his obsession and while she has escaped his grasp, she has not escaped his effect. Show-runner Melissa Rosenberg has confronted one of TV's great big issues in this series, that of consent and rape. TV all too often portrays rape as a titillation, with next to no consequences. The men move on and the women forget. While Jessica Jones looks at the perception of this and the skewed personality that Kilgrave's abilities have given him, the aftermath of what he get people to do are all the more real, all the more affecting. Jessica suffers daily with the aftermath of Kilgrave, the repeated rapes he subjected her too leave her haunted and broken. In a very fascinating LA Times interview, Rosenberg, Ritter and Tennant discuss the various viewpoints and aims of the series with regards to where they wanted to go with female sexuality and empowerment . For the most part, they nail it. The female characters, lead by Ritter's Jones and her adoptive sister Trish (Rachael Taylor with Aussie accent mostly under control), have demons that they fight; either physical or sexual abuse from surprising quarters (including a great turn by Rebecca De Mornay as Trish's abusive Mum), addition and the lasting trauma of their experiences.
The series is a procedural at its core, starting with a missing girl. NYU Track star Hope is reported missing and turns up as Kilgrave's latest Jessica replacement. The series introduces our characters from this jumping off point, with the villain brilliantly in the shadows for much of the first couple of episodes. This allows Jones' PTSD to come to the fore and we see the relationships that stagger around her. We also get the first appearance of the next Marvel/Netflix superhero in the form of Luke Cage, played with power and heart by Mike Colter. Rosenberg has crafted a compelling central cast with a strong central story arch that asks some much needed questions and, very smartly, doesn't answer all of them. The main story has enough legs to get through the 13 episodes, the supporting cast, lead by Carrie-Anne Moss as hardbitten lawyer Jeri Hogarth and Eka Darville (a Blue Water High alum for those of you with daughters who like watching Australian teen rubbish) as Malcolm, Jessica's junkie neighbour. The supporting cast bring more than enough to give twists when needed and turns when required. Intentionally, I'm doing my best to avoid plot because the story is strong enough that I don't want to spoil any of it. It is a superior TV show and works well for a binge watch (I watched the series in a day and a half).
But there is a but. Marvel's Netflix deal is mostly based in Hell's Kitchen. The preceding Daredevil did a brilliant job of building the world in the aftermath of Loki's alien invasion in The Avengers. But, in Jessica Jones, until episode 12 and 13, this common neighbourhood (Marvel Televisual Neighbourhood, MTN - totally coining that, "won't you be my neighbour?") has next to no interaction with each other and when it does it is only in oblique mentions. The added issue is in a show where you have two gifted/powered people talking about their abilities and call The Hulk "the green guy" and Cap "the flag waving guy" you start to hear alarm bells. That SHIELD, Daredevil himself or even alter-ego Matt Murdock are never even referenced when they are about a New York-minute away, is surprising. Each episode begins with a Marvel splash, we are sold on these gritter Netflix produced looks at the MCU, but that they don't even reference each other is a worry and if they do, they make up silly names? Come on, they already have silly names and if the only reference we get to Cap a few months before Civil War is a kid running through shot in a Cap costume, you really have to wonder what the hell is going on at Marvel Towers. At the very least, have someone mention Daredevil. As we now know that Luke Cage is buying the bar in Daredevil where Matt, Foggy and Karen drink, you think the exploits of the Daredevil taking down the man rebuilding the Kitchen would get a mention, right? Wrong. Not even Wilson Fisk gets a mention. Given how big the events in Daredevil are supposed to be, they seem to have been forgotten by the rest of The Kitchen pretty quick. It bugged me throughout the viewing. Yes, this is Jessica's show. Yes, Jessica doesn't really care. Yes, we are building a world for these characters to inhabit and we are seeding season two throughout, but, if the best you are going to do is have a cameo from the most brutally underused character in Daredevil as the only way in, who also never mentions the powered person by name, what are you doing? Also, don't tee us up by repeatedly saying "I need a lawyer" when you are going to keep going back to the one who screws you over and who also doesn't work for either of the TWO firms of lawyers you spend so much time building up across the street. To give Marvel their due, one episode does centre on people who lost family in the Battle of New York, but this is only done once and not mentioned again. Ok, rant over.
The above aside needs to be taken with this pinch of salt, Jessica Jones is compelling television. The issues that this series looks at are some that most male led series don't ever consider or handle so terribly I wonder what the hell goes on in those writing rooms. Rosenberg and Ritter have clearly worked out the direction they want Jessica Jones to go and being on that same page allows them to pose things to the viewership that are uncomfortable and yet need to be raised because no one else is doing it. All of it is handled with a deft hand and compelling leads in Ritter and Tennant. Jessica Jones is well worth the 13 hours of your time.
Jessica Jones Series One is available on Netflix now.